I have had the same garden for 35 years and most of the soil has remained ungardened and untouched. I say that because the sub soil is best left undisturbed and I am not a fan of double digging (ie 2 spits deep). Underneath the lawns the soil is left untended and almost half the garden was and still is down to grass. We are probably all guilty of doing little to improve that soil under lawns unless we are laying turves or new seed.
I don’t think it is a false memory when I think of my father going out with a bucket and shovel after the rag & bone man’s horse to collect a deposit. Dads rhubarb and soft fruit were the post war beneficiaries.
For many years I went to a local stables for bag it yourself horse manure. My son helped me until he grew up but I never did grow up that is. He encouraged me to get the hot stuff from the new part of the not inconsiderable pile left by 30 riding school horses. This was intended to activate my own garden compost heap and help improve my own composted output. Mainly it just activated the nostrils. I on the other hand aimed at the bottom of the pile for the oldest and theoretically the best rotted stuff that helpfully could be cut in slices like peat in shape but not texture. This I wanted to use on roses, runner beans and for general garden use. I collected many bricks and stones, a bad back and a wonky car suspension system. The garden collected the unrotted weed seeds to germinate where and when they wanted. To be fair the old stuff was OK weed wise but fairly solid in structure.
Without my willing labourer, now off at university, I ordered and took delivery of a lorry load of ‘well rotted manure – honest Guv’ stable manure. It arrived on a farm trailer that couldn’t tip over a convenient low wall so it had to be slid onto my drive. Clearing and barrowing it a fair distance was almost as hard as if I had collected it myself in many large, old, plastic peat sacks. The straw bedding was still much in evidence and rotting was negligible. One garden bed recieved the manure as was and this contained too many black slugs and I will revert to collecting my own ‘orse muck in smaller quantities now I have 3 large compost bins on the go.
Getting The Hump
In another project to create a new bed on top of an old drive became known as ‘the Hump’. I couldn’t dig out the tarmac drive & hardcore so I ordered lorry loads of soil. It created a pile that was 4 feet high and covered 6 yards by 4 with steepish slopes. It was fertile judging by the number of potatoes that grew in the first year. Perhaps it had been scavenged from a spud farm and in addition to old seed spuds the soil was heavy clay probably subsoil (may be it hadn’t been good enough to grow commercial potatoes). There were virtually no stones (that may have helped drainage) but the soil is very absorbent. Even after 10 years and lots of the aforementioned manure there is no tilth of any note. Nevertheless one third of this ‘hump’ has been a success due to copious amounts of peat to create soil fit for Rhododendrons.
The ground has settled and the pile is a bit lower and more evenly spread. Many early plants have now grown over the original path. The tarmac base has never been uncovered but the dwarf conifers have been maintained at bonsai size without my input.
I now know that ‘top soil’ to be really top notch it needs to be bought carefully and not in bulk. Nor should it be from a construction site with bits of rubble, weeds, roots and contaminants. Manufactured or blended soil is often used by landscapers for quality and consistency.
Look after the soil you have
- Worry more about the structure of the soil than adding chemistry. If the soil is able to hold moisture and air it should be good for worms and for growing.
- If a fine tilth is the top layer of soil and the base is subsoil the best rooting zone will be in between
- Fork over compacted borders; turn over the surface soil and mix in humus such as, green waste, old compost from pots, bags of peat, mushroom compost, green waste. When forking over taking care of spring bulbs.
- Top up around plants by spreading a thick layer of compost.
- This final layer of humus will help worms to drag compost down into the soil to improve aeration, fertility and soil structure, bacteria and fungi will benefit. Worms work judging by the many worms I have in the best parts of the garden.
- Try not to walk on the soil in a way that compacts and squeezes the air out
- Don’t let top soil dry out and be blown away in high winds nor washed away by excess water.
Gardeners Tips Earlier information
Soil Health Tips
Soil Health Chemicals
- The health of plants and the health of soil go hand in hand. It is very hard to have one without the other.
- Chemical assitance for soil health comes in improving the constituents of the soil by fertilisers or correcting deficiencies (as above) and by improving the structure of the soil (below).
- Clay breaker is designed to stop the very fine particles of soil sticking together in wet weather and baking rock hard in the sun. The addition of grit and humus will do a similar job.
- Humus in the form of spent mushroom compost, peat or manure are basic garden chemical additions to improve soil condition.
- Potting base is not added to your soil but to peat to make your own seed or potting compost. It usually contains a wetting agent, chalk and trace elements and the resulting mixture is fine for growing your own seedlings or cuttings.
- Soil improvers like Forti8 or seaweed extract claim to add minerals and trace elements to your soil. They do not do anything for the soil consistency or structure.
Here’s to Good Health